Case Number 06361

STAR WARS: CLONE WARS, VOLUME 1

Fox // 2003 // 69 Minutes // Not Rated
Reviewed by Judge David Johnson // March 9th, 2005

The Charge

The Force is with this one.

Opening Statement

The acclaimed animated "microseries" that aired on Cartoon Network last year has finally arrived on DVD. Genndy Tartavosky's 20-part series has been fused into one 69-minute explosion of action, creativity, and, basically, some righteous Star Wars action. This disc rules.

Facts of the Case

Clone Wars takes place between the second and third installments of George Lucas's prequel trilogy. Originally airing in bite-size chunks, these animated episodes tell several different stories and star all the known characters, plus a few new ones. Anakin and Obi-Wan (now the big-shot general that we heard of in Episode IV), Jedis Mace Windu and Kit Fisto, Padme Skywalker, C-3PO and R2-D2, plus big wheels Count Dooku, Darth Sidious, and Yoda himself, have slices of narration devoted to them.

The series starts out with a bang as Obi-Wan leads an elite group of badass clone troopers into a droid-infested bankers' union complex (ooh, evil bankers!). Meanwhile, Anakin lets fly laser death in his star-fighter in a grand space battle, which also lays the support for Obi-Wan's statement of Anakin's deftness in a cockpit to his son, Luke, years later. Mace must battle an imposing droid weapon; Padme, Yoda, and the droid boys journey to rescue some Jedis; and Kit Fisto goes deep-sea diving with his lightsaber.

The thrust of the narrative, though, is Dooku's recruitment of a new potential Sith Lord, the slightly androgynous female Asajj Ventress. Ventress, who wields two lightsabers and is deadly in combat, is charged with going one-on-one with Anakin. Their battle, and the effect of the ever-tenuous relationship between Obi-Wan and Anakin, advances the Star Wars mythology more than any other element in the series.

However, one of the coolest moments occurs toward the end, as we witness General Grievous, one of the major heavies in Episode III, wreak havoc.

The Evidence

This disc is a must-own for Star Wars fans. That point is not debatable. Even if you're one of the cranky coots who loathe every nanosecond of the prequel trilogy, Clone Wars still qualifies as top-notch. George Lucas himself loved what Genndy Tartakovsky and his skilled crew did, and requested another batch to be developed -- the eagerly awaited volume 2.

This disc is pretty much all action, which makes sense, as Cartoon Network needed to hook viewers in at light speed due to the brevity of the episodes. Three minutes does not leave a lot of time for prolonged exposition or parliamentary procedures, elements that have been fully covered by the films anyway. No, for the 69 minutes that you'll hopefully dedicate to this animated goodness, you will have relentless droid and clone combat, Jedi flipping and "Force-pushing," copious lightsaber shenanigans, and even a primal roar or two.

Lucas mentions in an interview that the Clone Wars era was a fertile ground for storytelling, and while he lamented the fact that he couldn't devote proper time to the conflict in the films (the third installment details the end of the Wars), he was excited about the animated series. And indeed, Tartokovsky harvests much from the period in the mythos. I've always appreciated Lucas's willingness to let other creative folks have the freedom to work in his universe (sure, much of those profits ends up in the Flanneled One's pockets, but whatever). Through books, video games, the much-ballyhooed but yet to be determined TV series, and this animation, Star Wars has been given some serious breadth. Clone Wars represents some of the best extra-film material I've seen (the Knights of the Old Republic video games also occupy that lofty pedestal). The creators' passion for the universe is explicit in each frame of animation. And, as they admit, they are elated and honored to contribute to the ever-unfolding universe.

For the most part, this is old-school two-dimensional art. Computers are brought in to handle the awesome space fight scenes -- and they do look great -- but the rest of it is drawn by hand. Perhaps some folks won't be fans of the animation, but I thought it was great. The art is colorful and detailed, and is rendered well enough to catch up with the blazing-fast action happening on screen. It is also able to reconcile the "kiddie" feel often associated with animation with heavier subject matter. What adult here won't get a kick out of a special forces clone unit laying waste? And Anakin's storyline continues to explore his morally vacuous, ever-descending path to the Dark Side.

Let me return to this point, however: The meat of this disc is unabashed Star Wars action. And my, is it tasty.

This is a great-looking disc. The 1.78:1 widescreen transfer is anamorphic and benefits greatly from the quality Lucasfilm treatment. The visuals are vivid, and the colors blast off the screen. The sound end turned out to be bit of a disappointment, however. A Dolby Digital 2.0 surround mix pushed the audio, but it's way too front-loaded, even when filtered through Pro Logic II. Clone Wars would have rocked with a digital mix, or at least a fuller use of the surrounds.

Extras include two featurettes: "Bridging the Saga: From Clone Wars to Revenge of the Sith" and a behind-the-scenes bit. Both are short but sweet. The former sports interviews with Lucas and Tartakovsky and brief snippets of cool-looking Episode III action, and the latter focuses more on the mechanics of bringing Clone Wars to life. Tartakovsky also provides two director's commentaries. I'll just say this: A gifted animator and storyteller he is, but, alas, an engaging commentator he is not. Loads of concept art, posters, and drawings fill the still gallery, and you get two video game trailers and an Xbox playable demo for Republic Commando -- which, I will admit, looks pretty phat -- and, finally, the teaser trailer for Episode III (unfortunately, the exact same one available on the Internet).

The Rebuttal Witnesses

Content-wise this disc is fan-frickin'-tastic (aside from a fairly ho-hum underwater episode), though it is obvious in some places it was sewn together from separate episodes. A few of the transitions are jarring. Also, Anthony Daniels is the only movie cast member to provide his voice; the replacement voice actors do a good job, but it would have been really cool to get the stars on board. But I'm nitpicking. This is Star Wars, after all, the breeding ground for nitpicking fanboys.

Closing Statement

I'm all about Clone Wars. It's just great, great fun, molded by true fans of the series. Even the cold, disillusioned Star Wars aficionados who loathe the prequels should be able to glean some joy from this disc, even if their hearts have shriveled to the size of an Ewok's testicle.

The Verdict

The accused is handed a lightsaber and a bag lunch and redeployed. Court adjourned.

Review content copyright © 2005 David Johnson; Site layout and review format copyright © 1998 - 2014 HipClick Designs LLC

Scales of Justice
Video: 95
Audio: 80
Extras: 85
Acting: 85
Story: 95
Judgment: 92

Perp Profile
Studio: Fox
Video Formats:
* 1.78:1 Anamorphic

Audio Formats:
* Dolby Digital 2.0 Surround (English)
* Dolby Digital 2.0 Surround (French)
* Dolby Digital 2.0 Surround (Spanish)

Subtitles:
* English

Running Time: 69 Minutes
Release Year: 2003
MPAA Rating: Not Rated

Distinguishing Marks
* "Bridging the Saga" Featurette
* Behind-the-Scenes Featurette
* Two Director Commentaries
* Still Galleries
* Episode III Teaser Trailer
* Video Game Trailers
* Republic Commando Playable Xbox Demo

Accomplices
* IMDb
http://us.imdb.com/title/tt0361243/combined

* Star Wars Official Site
http://www.starwars.com/